The tools for the job: how to choose secateurs

I’m always surprised that many keen gardeners own terrible tools. My mother-in-law loved gardening, but her shed housed a frightful collection of corroded and broken implements – many inherited from her father (and perhaps his father before him). Some were positively dangerous, with rusty heads liable to fly off handles at any moment.

Garden tools can be expensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment – quality tools can last a lifetime. A good set of ‘core’ tools will not only make you a better gardener, but make gardening itself more enjoyable.

And of all tools, one of the most important is a really good pair of secateurs.

How to choose your secateurs?

If you go to your local garden centre you’ll probably find 2 types of secateurs: anvil and bypass. Anvil secateurs have a sharp upper blade which cuts down onto a flat lower blade (the anvil). Bypass secateurs have two cutting blades, which work like scissors.

Choose bypass, not anvil secateurs. Anvil secateurs are said to be better for cutting dead wood, but most of the time, we’re cutting live wood. If you’ve got a lot of dead wood to cut up, a pair of loppers will do the job more effectively.

Gardening is a learning process, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my gardening journey. I’ve acquired a huge collection of secateurs which I’ve bought, found or been given, and I wouldn’t recommend any of them. They are all cheap or mid-range priced secateurs. Although they all do the job, they tend to stick, break or cut badly, leaving your precious rose stems chewed and split, rather than neatly cut.

I resisted buying a good pair of secateurs for so long because they’re expensive. That was until, one day when volunteering at Michelham Priory I borrowed a pair of Felco No 2 secateurs from one of the gardeners. It was love at first snip and I bought my own pair soon afterwards.

My Felco No2 secateurs
My Felco No2 secateurs

Felco have an excellent reputation in the world of secateurs. Swiss made, Felco secateurs come with a lifetime warranty, and all the parts are replaceable, so unless you lose them, they will genuinely last you the rest of your life.

Felco make over 2o different models of secateur. The most popular is the No 2 model – the one I have and the one I’d recommend if you want a good, all-purpose secateur. Although advertised for large hands, I have no problems with the size or comfort of this model.

Although the Felco’s are pricey, at around £40, I’ve spent far more than this over the years on cheaper models. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d bought my Felco’s years ago – I would have saved a lot of money!

How to look after your secateurs?

I’d also recommend a secateur holster which you loop through your belt – and not just because it makes you feel like a wild west gardener. It’s easy to put down your secateurs while you’re gardening and lose them. The holster keeps them safe. It’s worth getting a leather holster – the fabric ones don’t last very long.

I disinfect my secateurs after each use by dipping them into a jar of methylated spirit. Because I work in other people’s gardens, I don’t want to spread disease, which could be transmitted via a dirty blade. But even if you’re only working in your own garden, it’s not a bad idea to disinfect your secateurs regularly – particularly if you’ve been pruning a plant with some sort of infection, for example roses with black spot.

Sharpening secateurs takes less than a minute and is really worthwhile. Buy a fine-grade, flat sharpener – they are usually pretty cheap either online or from a hardware store. (This is the one I have). Your secateur blade has an angled side and a flat side. First sharpen the angled side with circular motions, then sweep across the flat side to create a sharp edge.

To finish off, I give my secateurs a quick spray with WD-40 and they are ready to go.

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